Nick Lowe is pretty sure he'll never be a household name; he blames what he calls the "homemade quality" of his records. "My records sound like they're going to fall to bits any second," he says with a laugh. "I really like that and other people like that too, but there's not enough of them to make me really famous." Rather modest coming from the guy who wrote "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding."
And for someone who sees himself as relatively obscure, Lowe's been showing up a lot lately. Last June he released his 13th studio album, At My Age, and in February celebrated the 30th anniversary and reissue of his 1978 solo debut, Jesus of Cool.
The timing of the two releases makes for an interesting bridge across the crooked miles of Lowe's career. Recorded after Lowe began to garner some attention producing records for Elvis Costello, the Damned and the Pretenders, Jesus of Cool is cynical and frustrated without being world-weary; poppy without being polished. When Lowe sings "I need the noises of destruction / when there's nothing new" in "(I Love the Sound of) Breaking Glass," he sounds like he's offering a new-wave manifesto.
"Thirty years ago I was much more conscious about making a statement, because I was younger, and it was my turn in the pop business," Lowe says. "I wanted to make a sort of name for myself as a sort of maverick and a non-player of the game."
Lowe half expected Jesus of Cool to be forgotten by the end of that year; in fact, he didn't think people would be listening to any pop music -- his or anyone else's -- for much longer. "I really thought that when the punk-rock thing came along it was the actual end of pop music, the end of innovation," he says. "I still think I'm right. Everything since then seems to be some kind of recycle." Lowe is happy to admit that Jesus of Cool is filled with "obvious steals" from other people's albums, and since then he's found himself taking more care with songwriting.
At My Age sounds worn in, and Lowe nimbly negotiates roles as country rocker and nightclub crooner. He's still a little cynical -- "I Trained Her to Love Me" is so mean that even the listener feels a little betrayed -- but such moments are rare. Even without the title as a clue, it's clear that the polite, distinguished Lowe behind At My Age does have 30 good years of experience on the brash young man who made Jesus of Cool. Lowe still values that homemade quality, and still seems a bit like a maverick. ("Everybody's hip now, even the stupid people," he says of the current music scene, which he finds dull.)
While Lowe wouldn't mind having another top-40 song -- his last being 1979's "Cruel to be Kind" -- he finds the idea just as unlikely as his becoming a household name. "I'm nearly 60. I'm not really interested in having my mind blown," he says.
"It's just because you get older. I've sort of heard it all before."
Nick Lowe with Ron Sexsmith. 8 p.m. Sun., April 27. Byham Theater, 101 Sixth St., Downtown. $31.50. 412-456-6666 or www.pgharts.org
- Sort of a maverick: Nick Lowe